Mr. Rogers vs. Cartoons

Being an uncle prior to fatherhood has afforded me the opportunity to get a good handle on what is going on out there in the world of Kid’s TV.  I directed a number of Kid’s TV shows in my early career for Disney, The Kid’s WB, and The Oxygen Network so it is an industry I am close to.  Back then, we were still making wholesome programming that involved extreme sports, learning lessons, and music.  Today…things have gone bat-sh*t.

The last cartoon I enjoyed watching with my nephew was Sponge Bob Square Pants, it has miraculously found a way to create programming that is fun for kids, young adults, and adults.  However, it is the genesis of a trend in cartoons that is ruining Saturday mornings everywhere: shouting. Sorry…SHOUTING!!!  This summer I found myself watching cartoons with my nephew to discover that every show is filled with non-stop hyperactive intensity, constant motion, and most importantly characters that just scream at each other.  It was the most annoying thing I’ve ever experienced.  Just hours of screaming and shouting and sugar induced fits of screaming and shouting!

“Let’s go to the zoo today!”

“ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!  I love the zoo!!!  Can we look at the monkeys?!!!  Can we look at the monkeys?!!!  Can we look at the monkeys?!!!  Can we look at the monkeys?!!!  MONKEEEEEEEEYS!!!!!!”

That’s pretty much today’s cartoons in a nutshell.  They just come at you with shouting right away!  Everything is over the top!  …and we wonder why our kids are hyperactive.

Max Watches Basketball

Max, who is 1-year-old, has discovered the TV and it is starting to really get his attention.  Mostly, he loves SportsCenter and basketball…but we are happy to encourage him to play with toys instead.  This Sunday he seemed fascinated with the TV so sought out something for us to watch together.  What I found was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the show I grew up with.  Max’s reaction was amazing.  Instead of running in circles around the room and clapping his hands as he does for EVERYTHING else on TV…he sat quietly and watched calmly with a smile.  We danced to the musical numbers, waved to the characters, and spoke in calm low voices.  It was lovely.  I loved this show as a kid…LOVED it!  I would come home from school, make “Mr. Rogers Snacks” (cubes of cheese with sliced bananas on toothpicks), and watch this show.  At the end of it I would either go play outside or in my room with my toys.  Importantly, I did something this show and my mother preached daily…I used my imagination.

There is no imagination in Kid’s TV anymore.  Its half hour after half hour of characters screeching at each other.  The subject matter and drawing style changes with each show but its the same crap.  Yelling.  As kids get older the shows are all crappy version of Saved by The Bell but with younger kids who become Pop Idols.  They teach our kids terrible lessons in priorities and work ethics.  They promote clicks, getting caught up in menial social B.S., and being rewarded for doing what is expected of them.  In America the FCC bans nudity from your TV but allows shows like CSI to show severed body parts and discuss murder like its dinner conversation.  We’re all quick to point a finger at these shows and shout that society imitates art (or does art imitate society?).  However, the simple truth is that we are to blame…we are consumers and this is what we are consuming.

Be careful what you let your kids consume.  I wouldn’t let my 1-year-old consume a soda or sugar…same goes for the TV.  I’m not going to present him with unhealthy programming options.  If he wants to watch SportsCenter and basketball with me, that is awesome and I love it in moderation.  If we are going to watch something together for him?  Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street are perfect!  However, the best option is still no TV at all.  Max has never been babysat by the TV…he’s too busy playing nicely in the corner or running around outside.  Mommy and Daddy are both TV people, heck its my job!  There will be TV in our house as our kids grow up, but like their diets we will carefully choose what we put in front of them and when.  As a guy who has written, produced, and directed Kid’s TV the best advice I can give you is this:

Turn off your TV.  Go outside.  Play a game.  It was always more fun making the TV show than watching it because we were all doing something fun together.  Use your imagination.  If you teach your kids to play games early in their life they will continue to find ways to inspire fun and creativity in themselves.  If you need a little help coming up with an activity or game check out Play 101, a blog written by a mother who invents games for her kids and inspires imagination.

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